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The force that causes and controls all events, so that you cannot change or control how events unfold, is called fate. Along with the various themes presented in ‘Beowulf’, the theme of fate is one of the key ones, and it can be traced primarily concerning death and its perception by the characters of the poem.

The characters in ‘Beowulf’ fully accept death as an inevitable fate, and as a result, they are rather indifferent or fearless towards death. Even in the very beginning of the poem, the author writes about the scene of a king’s funeral that the king was “thriving when his time came and he crossed over into the Lord’s keeping” (Beowulf, 26-27). This word choice ‘thriving’ suggests that King Shield died at a rather young age, but at a glorious time of his life; this neutral, even positive word, used along with the description of death later, implies impending death, which neither does it show any sorrow nor does it indicate hatred towards death. Further in the poem, the definition of death is given as “whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgement by God” (Beowulf, 440-441), which suggests the irresistible fate of death for everyone in the matter of time under God’s demand, and there is nothing man can do to avoid it. Since death is inevitable, the characters in ‘Beowulf’ accept their fate and face death courageously, even indifferently. When Beowulf is preparing his battle with Grendel, all of the people including himself do not “expected he would ever see/ his homeland again or get back/…/ They knew too well the way it was before,/ how often the Danes had fallen prey/ to death in the mead-hall” (Beowulf, 691-696). Beowulf does not anticipate victory over his upcoming battle with Grendel, instead, he comes into battle with the faith of facing highly possible death. This, in return, along with the belief that death is an inescapable end, liberates him from fear of death when he confronts Grendel and boosts him in courage to fight. After all, when one accepts the worst that is to come, what else is left there to be afraid of to drag the person down?

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This attitude towards the death of the heroes of the poem can be explained by its cultural and religious background. The characters in ‘Beowulf’ live in a pre-Christian culture that believes in fate and glory as a way to remain alive. They do not show belief in Christianity, but rather, the belief of god as the controller of fate, and fate is beyond human power. In the poem, the author makes a very interesting correlation between the banquet and death when he states “a destination already ordained/ where the body, after the banqueting,/ sleeps on its deathbed” (Beowulf, 1005-1007). This is very revealing since banqueting is a day-to-day norm for medieval warriors, and as a contrast presented in the lines, so is death. Both are normal occasions for the Geat and Dane warriors daily, which supports the characters’ fearless attitude toward death—it is normal and inevitable. Beyond just accepting it, the characters sometimes may even voluntarily invoke or chase events that ultimately cause death. This can be explained by another aspect of pagan culture, which is the belief in glory and reputation as a way to prolong life after death. As stated in the poem, “For every one of us, living in this world/ means waiting for our end. Let whoever can/ win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,/ that will be his best and only bulwark” (Beowulf, 1384-1389). It can be seen that a warrior’s reputation and the glory he has done before death is the only way to keep him alive, in terms of living in people’s memories and stories, after he dies. They are not trying to get into heaven or have their soul to be with the divine in their afterlife, but rather they are trying to leave great stories of their glory and bravery to the world and future generations.

In summary, the theme of fate is one of the key themes revealed by the author in ‘Beowulf’. And it is precisely because of the theme of death that it is best followed. The heroes of ‘Beowulf’ perceive death as an inevitable thing for everyone, so they meet it fearlessly and without grief.

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